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2.

For one week, 168 hours, the little invading fleet stayed at the icy globe on the outskirts of the Spiral Arch system, carousing and relaxing and, just a little, planning for what was to come. The last twenty hours or so, however, assumed the feeling of a retirement party. It had been decided for certain: the Honshu, the Primoid cruiser and fighters, and the Fyaa cruisers and two of the remaining five Fyaa fighters would go back, flying directly to Fyatskaab to introduce the Ngugma there to the new and exciting method of causing a cascading proton decay in a freighter full of metals. The Tasmania, the Ngugma cruiser, three Fyaa fighters (piloted by Skzyyn, Dzvezyets, and Ve’ezy) and the three and a half remaining wings of Ghost 204s would go on to Pentestella.

So a farewell party was held, in a tent on the surface of the planetoid. The food was from the Honshu, whose replicators would be missed. The music was Clay’s 20th Century “rock,” with more modern additions from Timmis Green and Padfoot, some 25th Century minuets added by Captain Root, and intervals of some sort of jazz instrumental played live by Fyaa musicians of all three species. Kalkar danced with Root, politely, while Natasha did a rather dirty tango with Vera, Apple and Izawa and Aliya and Millie Grohl boogied energetically, and Li and Timmis, and Clay and Rachel, danced and kissed. Skzyyn, playing some sort of vibraphone in the jazzy sections, kept nodding and pointing at them. The Primoids, who did not communicate much with sound, seemed to be grooving on their own.

When the party wound down, Clay let Rachel take him off and have her way with him, one last time in the spacious bunks of the Honshu. Meanwhile, Natasha and Vera and Flaayy were in the Ngugma cruiser, with Skippy and two other Primoids, saying pictorial farewells and chatting pictorially. The Honshu and Tasmania crews were all saying farewells, except that Kalkar and Park were both noticeably absent.

Finally, all the tents were taken down and the contents of the sealed cave were stowed one place or another (the cave was left sealed for future use, because who knew). The ships on the ground lifted off. In orbit, one last farewell ceremony was held, in the combined freight spaces of Honshu and Tasmania. Many were the hugs exchanged, beginning and ending with Kalkar and Park hugging Cassandra Root and the two Kaahriig captains. Natasha and the Primoid captain and Skippy hugged as well, and when Clay went to shake Skippy’s claw, he got pulled into a hug, as did Rachel. Skzyyn, Dzvezyets and Ve’ezy made sure to give formal Fyaa salutes to Fvaerch and Sheaeek; Hhmvyvya, staying with the Tskelly, was practically weeping when it made its adieus to its fellow Errhatzky. Then with one more handshake between Kalkar and Fvaerch, they separated to their own ships, closed their freight hatches, and separated.

Honshu and the Primoid and Fyaa cruisers began rolling away, back past the Spiral Arch stars and star base, while Tasmania and the Ngugma cruiser, flown now by Ram Vindu, Raea Chee and Flaayy, turned their proverbial prows toward Pentestella.

Then, with every passing hour, the rate at which they moved apart, Honshu and Tasmania, the Kaahriig-commanded cruisers and Skzyyn and its friends, Skippy the Primoid and Natasha from Vermont, increased toward a limit at which each would be moving away from the icy planetoid at 300,000 km/sec, in opposite directions, and yet they would be moving with respect to one another at 300,000 km/sec. It didn’t matter. Dr. Einstein had not been proved wrong, nor would he be. Those flying home would reach home and perhaps save their home, and they would never see those flying onward again. Those flying onward toward the Galaxy’s core: they would never see home again, unless home was something they carried with them.

 

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